The Practice Of Love (Sacred Bones)
The clue for Australians who know – who should know because she’s a gem – is in the presence of Laura Jean (Englert) on The Practice Of Love. Few artists make irrelevant the line between intimate and raw and universal and warm like Englert, whose examination of the heart and spirit from inside and out has been a career-long one. She is something special.
To that small group led by the Melbourne-based singer/songwriter should be added without hesitation Norwegian Jenny Hval,. An artist who has more often been brutally direct and bracingly avant garde (remember this from her provocative Sydney Festival performance ) but still capable of soul-marking humanity (spend five minutes with Untamed Region from 2016’s Blood Bitch), Hval takes on the hardly insignificant topic of love on her seventh album.
Not that this means she’s made an album of love songs. Love here is simultaneously more complex than one-on-one relationships and even more basic than that; fraught with implications but also stripped of its accoutrements. “The word love comes in the way of love and makes me want to say sorry …maybe sorry was the closest I ever got to expressing love.”
There’s a sense of getting to the very nub of our needs, whether grounding our claims for something more or something special in the earthiness of nature (in Lions) as much as the ephemeral aspect of intellectual “truths” (in The Practice Of Love), or being unafraid to measure life against death (Accident) as much as giving into the senses (Six Red Cannas).
And along the way Hval almost casually drops little bombs of frankness, or clarity, like this from Ashes To Ashes: “I had a dream about this song/That I had not written yet/Like I used to dream of fucking before I knew how/I was playing some kind of instrument/That was just a shape in the earth/Like I was playing by digging my own grave.”
Hval is joined by Englert, Felicity Atkinson and Vivian Wang for singing and spoken sections, her own voice sometimes mesmeric and “other”, sometimes brittle and “human”; their voices natural and at ease. Their interplay sometimes overlap, as in the title track blurring the storylines in such a way that reveals something unspoken and more potent for that.
Musically this could be a travelling companion for Hot Chip’s Life Is Beautiful as well as Englert’s most recent album, Devotion, its electronica base making for a set of songs that project movement and bliss in washed through colours. Like dancing in the half-light, or travelling through low clouds.
Feeling somewhere between dream pop and the dancefloor, it flows inexorably, naturally, peaks such as the euphoric Six Red Cannas lifting free from the twilight musing of Thumbsucker, or the pulsing High Alice upping the energy of Lions.
And when it ends in Ordinary it is both quietly crushing and promising a continuation of exploration and understanding. Which is, I guess, love.